In the wake of superstorm Sandy this week, several unlikely stars have stepped into the spotlight. Among them? Lydia Callis, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's awesomely animated sign language interpreter, whose expressive translations at recent press conferences have been compared to first-class performance art.
Here, Us Weekly uncovers five fun facts about the scene-stealing signer who, as New York Magazine wrote, has given people "a legitimate reason to smile" during these hard times.
1. She's a relatively recent graduate. According to NPR, Callis, 30, trained at the Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf, where she got her interpreting degree in 2010. "Linda Siple, a professor in NTID's [American Sign Language] and Interpreting Education program, recalls Callis as 'highly motivated, gracious, and professional…She was very motivated with the deaf community here,'" Rochester spokesperson Greg Livadas said in an email to NPR.
2. She has personal ties to the deaf community. DNAinfo New York reports that Westchester resident Callis has been interpreting for her mom and three siblings — all of whom are deaf — since she was a child. She also works as an American Sign Language interpreter for schools, hospitals, and businesses.
3. She's media shy. Unlike other overnight stars, Callis doesn't appear eager to extend her 15 minutes of fame. After declining to be interviewed by Bloomberg Businessweek after a recent press conference, she told the New York Post, "I'm here to serve the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. I'm just glad, and I'm honored, that I was able to get the message out there…that's what it's all about." As Rochester's Livadas explained, "By nature, the role of an interpreter is to accommodate effective communication, not to be the story. She may be uncomfortable with all the hype."
4. Speaking of hype: She has a devoted online fanbase. Callis' larger-than-life facial expressions and dramatic gestures have turned her into a viral Web sensation, inspiring countless tweets, video tributes, and GIFs. There's even a Tumblr page dedicated to her: Lydia Callis' Face for NYC Mayor. "I tell ya, the real star of Mayor Bloomberg's press conferences is that animated sign language translator he's got. Can't look away," Twitter user @JCamm_ wrote Oct. 29.
5. She's skilled at improv. Though the Post reports that Callis watches the news to anticipate and account for potentially challenging concepts — like the words "surge" and "crane" — she doesn't get the mayor's speeches in advance and has to think quickly on her feet. That means being ready for anything — including Bloomberg's unpredictable behavior. "If he stutters, if he messes up a sentence, you're going to see me stuttering, and you're going to see me messing up the sentence," she told DNAinfo, adding that she also tries to convey his sometimes-sarcastic tone through facial expressions. "The point of interpreting is to render the message faithfully, and that's what I have to do."
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